Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

cars

Odd Lots

  • Whew. We’re in Phoenix, now permanently, with the Colorado house on MLS. Much remains to be done, but the immense project of getting our house emptied and ready to sell has been nailed. The Smaller But Still Significant Truck Full of Stuff has emptied itself into our living room, and we have a week or two of sorting and sifting and putting away. Overall, we’re in good shape.
  • Iconic Mad Magazine cartoonist Jack Davis has died, at 91. I’ll readily admit that I used to read Mad while I was in high school, though not where my parents could see me. Humor mattered to me, as it does to this day. The only Mad artist who rivaled him in my view was Mort Drucker, who is still with us. (“I don’t believe your ears either, Mr. Spook.”)
  • I’m wondering if it would be possible to write a Windows-like user shell for Windows 10 IOT, which is available for the RPi. (You would be perfectly justified, this time at least, in asking “Why would you want to do that? Answer: Because it would be a cool hack, and it would probably annoy Microsoft, which is always a plus.)
  • Do you see the sunspot? I don’t see the sunspot.
  • We have now gone a record 129 months without a major hurricane making landfall on the US mainland. One of my friends continues to argue that Superstorm Sandy was a major hurricane because of the damage it caused. Ok…except “major hurricane” is a technical term in climate science, with a technical definition: Class 3 or above. Sandy was Class 2 when it hit the Atlantic Coast, and not a hurricane at all when it did the most damage. We’re talking about sustained wind speed, which is the only way we have to objectively classify hurricanes and get a handle on hurricane trends over time.
  • I got the impression (see above) that I was supposed to bow my head and whisper, “Hurricane Sandy was a horrible tragedy,” every time I talked about hurricane physics. Uhhhh…no. That’s like requiring me to say, “Nuclear bombs are horrible things,” every time I talk about the physics of nuclear fission. Sorry. Not gonna happen. Emotion has no place in science, except to politicize discussion and demonize dissent.
  • Where do Americans smoke the most weed? No points for guessing Colorado, though central Maine has a surprising constituency. What else do you do during those interminably miserable winters? (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
  • Speaking of which, Donald Trump supports allowing states to legalize marijuana, a position neither our president nor Hillary Clinton has taken. This is truly the weirdest presidential election in my considerable lifetime.
  • To be honest, I’m more interested in nootropics. Here’s a light article worth citing because it mentions a nootropic I had not heard of before: L-theanine.
  • Which is best used in conjunction with the oldest and probably best nootropic of all. Drinking coffee significantly reduces the risk of suicide. Well, caffeine raises mood, therefore acting against depression, and depressed people are those mostly likely to kill themselves.
  • Oh, and coffee acts against prostate cancer, too. I never drank coffee regularly until I was 33. I hope that wasn’t too late.
  • We had numerous Nash Ramblers when I was a kid. The company just turned 100, even though they became AMC and got devoured by Chrysler years ago. Nash did a lot of good stuff, some of it far earlier than their competition.
  • Why do I have to say this so much? Genuine virtue does not need signaling. I’ve come to the conclusion that all signaled virtue is fake. The rest of us are onto you. Just stop.

The Hitch in Our Gitalong

We’ve had our Dodge Durango for almost a year now, and I’m willing to say it’s the best vehicle I’ve ever owned, in my 45 years of owning vehicles. I described the purchase experience (via CarMax) here. The CarMax people were very impressive. We gave them a list of must-haves, can’t haves, and nice-to-haves, and their sales rep did the logic and found us a car. We didn’t get the color that we wanted, and we didn’t get the tow package that we wanted, but it was less than a year old, a V-6, and had tan seats and the all-important power liftgate. I was told that I could order a tow package kit from a Dodge dealer and have it installed for about $750 total. We bought the car, and we love it.

This past week, I decided to get the tow package installed. We are thinking of driving a one-way trailer rental down to our new house later this year, because we’ll have four dogs in the hold and want to bring down certain items (like Carol’s plants and some 95-year-old crystal) that we don’t trust with movers. The idiots who moved us here from Scottsdale in 2003 destroyed a couple of our lamps and were throwing boxes around with unwarranted abandon. A trailer would allow me to rest a little easier with things like my grandmother’s crystal, my Icom IC-736 (which I bought as a review unit from ARRL and assume was hand-picked at Icom for perfectness) my telescope mirrors, Aunt Kathleen’s mogul lamp, and a few other fragile items.

I ordered the tow kit from the closest Dodge dealership. It cost me about $350. When it came in, I picked it up and took the Durango over to our mechanic to have the tow kit installed, along with the usual periodic oil change and lookover. He called about three hours later and told us the car was done.

Carol drove us down there in the 4Runner, and when we arrived, Vince was grinning. He took us out to the Durango, took off the tow hitch cover, and showed us the tow hitch. Cool. Then we looked in the back of the vehicle.

The tow kit was still there.

“The vehicle already had the tow kit installed,” he told us. Evidently he’d gotten the vehicle up on the lift, dropped the spare tire, and shazam! There it was.

As best I can speculate, the CarMax people never bothered to look and see if the car actually had the tow packge. Getting the hitch cover off isn’t rocket science and requires no tools. I assume most people take it off and never put it back on, and you can see the hitch right there in the middle of the bumper. So if the hitch cover is still on, they assume it’s just there to plug the hole and that there’s nothing behind it.

Feeling like an idiot, I drove back to the Dodge dealership and told them my story. Even though there was supposedly a 15-50% restocking charge, the dealership gave me a full refund for the kit. I wasn’t perpared for that level of courtesy, especially given the gnarly experiences Carol and I have had at car dealerships.

Bottom line: Dodge is a class act.

Lesson: When you’re buying a used car, do more than kick the tires. There May Be Surprises. Fortunately, ours was a good surprise.

Carmax and the No-Haggle Revolution

Durango First Day 500 Wide.jpg

The last Sunday of April, 2001, Carol and I stopped at a Toyota dealership on the way home from church. We’d been thinking about a new car for some time. Our 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee was not all that old, but it was a lemon and had become increasingly unreliable. We’d been considering the 4Runner and wanted to test-drive one. So we pulled into the dealer lot, and swung back the big glass door leading into a uniqely American vision of Purgatory. Six hours later, we emerged with a new 4Runner, and a solemn promise to one another that we would never do that again.

We’ve kept that promise.

It wasn’t easy. Carol and I did our homework. We scoured the Web for reviews, asked our mechanic and our nephew Matt, who’s a car hobbyist, and generally kept our ears open. We knew what we needed: A full-size SUV to replace our almost 20-year-old Plymouth Voyager minivan. The Voyager was 2WD, and the winters here in Colorado have been getting colder, grayer, and snowier. Our local government is throwing that classic extortion tantrum of selectively witholding public services until we raise taxes on ourselves, in this case refusing to plow streets in well-off neighborhoods like ours. Voters here do not bully easily, and have given them the finger three times in a row now, which still leaves us the problem of winter driving in a 2WD minivan. Winter this year basically began on November 1, which we took to be a Sign. We needed to trade in the van for something with a tranfer case. We were not going to do it by enduring another six hours of franchise dealership kabuki.

Our first thought was to use the Costco car-buying program. This is a no-haggle arrangement whereby the dealers and Costco agree on a price for each model and option. You ask for the price, and if you want the car, you pay it. That sounded fine to us. We used their Web site and contacted the Costco liaison at the big local Dodge dealer. We told him we wanted a 2014 Dodge Durango with our list of must-have and nice-to-have features. The guy did his best (I think) but didn’t come up with much.

Part of that was the odd list of features we wanted. Some, like a lack of second-row captain’s chairs, clustered in the two lower trim styles. Others, like a power liftgate, clustered in the higher trim styles. The color we wanted (a golden beige they call Pearl) seemed not to exist. The whites and reds did exist, but swam in a sea of black. You can get second-degree burns off a black car in Scottsdale, where we may soon be spending winters. Black was thus a deal-killer. We found a couple of contenders ourselves in the central Dodge inventory listings. The cars were on the far side of Denver. I emailed the listings to the Costco rep at the local Dodge dealer, who then had trouble getting the remote dealership to cooperate.

In the meantime, our nephew Matt suggested that we look at used cars. He’d bought a used Jeep through TrueCar and was delighted with it. I’d heard about CarMax, and had driven past their local retail location a number of times. So Carol and I looked at their inventory online, found a couple of cars that weren’t too far from what we wanted, and figured we’d give their system a try.

CarMax is a car-lot no-haggle system for buying used cars. We emailed a request for a test drive, and one of their reps contacted us and set up an appointment. We went out there and we drove ourselves a Durango. The car was a 2013, and whereas it drove very well, it had 27,000 miles on it and a V8 hemi under the hood. Carol and I wanted a V6 with under 15,000 miles on it. The CarMax rep, Derek Scott, scanned around other CarMax locations and found a couple of possibilities, again, up in the Denver area. He offered to have the best of them brought down to Colorado Springs at no charge so we could try it here.

He did. It took only two days. We drove it, we liked it, he stated a price, appraised the Voyager for a trade-in, and gave us a final number. We arranged financing, then went back the next day to push papers, and finally drove it home. No kabuki. No pressure. Sure, I might have gotten it for a thousand bucks less somewhere else (maybe) after another week or two of enduring the franchise dealership hell-hole. We felt disinclined to put ourselves through that wringer again.

So now we have a 2014 Durango Limited with 12,000 miles on it. We like the tan interior for the same reason we wanted a tan exterior–less heat absorption. The vehicle didn’t have a tow package, but it met all of our other requirements. I can get a real Mopar tow package installed for about $750, which I will when things settle down a little. (Our next assignment: Get new phones and a new carrier. Uggh.)

About CarMax I have nothing but the best to say. Their people were terrific (especially Derek Scott) and showed no impatience with us whatsoever. They brought out a car from another store without charging us for it, and gave us about what I expected for a 19-year-old minivan trade-in. Highly recommended.

I wonder, at this point, how long the traditional franchise dealership model would last if it were not protected by state law. I settled for a used car instead of a new car in part because I wanted nothing to do with a dealership. Even when I tried to work with a dealership (via Costco) the other dealerships didn’t seem to want the business. We would have replaced the Voyager years ago if we could have stomached the thought of going new car shopping as the law requires us to do it. I don’t think that the dealers, the manufacturers, nor the government itself have any idea how much that dealership kabuki has lost the industry in new car sales. It’s another example of a brittle business model that will fail badly when it fails, because its proponents can’t get their heads around the way their world is going.

I can’t say much about the car just yet. I’m still trying to program its multitude of options. (The Durango’s 626-page owner’s manual has to be special-ordered in print form and is not shipped with the vehicle.) It’s big, shiny, and so far works perfectly. I guess that’s more than enough for the time being.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots